CAD Standards: Strategies for Success

23 Sep, 2011 By: Robert Green

Once you've developed these guidelines, how can you convince your users to follow them?


Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the Summer 2011 issue of Cadalyst magazine.

If making CAD standards work were as easy as creating a document or sending out an e-mail, none of us would have standards problems, would we? However, experience has taught me that getting users to abide by standards is a complex process that requires equal parts technical, motivational, and psychological expertise. In this column, I’ll share some standards implementation strategies that have worked well for me, in hopes that you can adopt them for your workplace and achieve positive results.

What Not to Do

As with most things in management, your first goal is to not make things worse than they already are by adopting an approach that won’t work. I’ve witnessed many aborted attempts at establishing CAD standards, and almost all of them fell into one of these categories:

The all-at-once approach. Here, CAD managers jump into CAD standards with a goal of getting everything done immediately, overwhelming users with a barrage of documentation, workflow changes, and long training sessions shoehorned into existing job schedules.

The doing-without-telling approach. Surprising users or senior management with an abrupt effort to standardize invariably leads to tension, objections, and resistance. Believe me when I say that you’ll spend more time trying to explain after the fact than if you had been up front about your efforts in the first place.

The one-e-mail-and-it’s-solved approach.
If you can send out an e-mail with a standards document attached and all your users follow your directions, you’re a much better CAD manager than I am. In my experience, you might as well not even bother.

Instead, Try the Fix-It Approach

Now you know what won’t work — but what will do the trick? Follow this straightforward, fix-it approach and you’ll have much better success implementing standards.

In using this approach, you’re essentially identifying the CAD-related problems that meet two criteria: they make life miserable for your CAD users, and they are problems that you can actually fix. You then deliver your proposed solution and sell it to users by explaining how it will make their lives easier and save them time. After you have the users’ attention, you offer some training that not only explains how to use the new standards, but also demonstrates their benefits. Once you get to this point, chances are very high that your users will adopt your solution as a new standard.

Find fixable problems.
Want to find the problems that you can fix with standards? Look for the annoying everyday issues that users complain about all the time. Examples include problems related to plotting; file management; use of templates; and creating standard content such as blocks, families, and components. What makes a problem fixable is that you can overcome it using tools you already have in your CAD environment so you don’t have to purchase new hardware, software, or training materials. Fixable problems are almost always usability issues akin to these rather than issues that require heavy spending, such as buying new computers or plotters. Spend your time fixing what you can actually fix, and your users will appreciate your efforts!

Ease of use rules!
One of the points I stress when formulating a CAD standard, or any type of standard procedure, is that it has to be easy to use. Users should perceive standards as tools that help them accomplish their work in fewer steps, so explain to all that standards will make their jobs easier via better, cleaner processes. Standards should not increase the steps required in a process or build bureaucratic barriers.

Automate it. Want to simplify the use of standard details in AutoCAD? Create palletized detail libraries that pop up on the user’s desktop. Want to simplify use of standard parts in your SolidWorks environment, then catalog all your parts in a consistent network location and deploy to everyone. The common denominator in these examples is that you make it so automatic to use your standards that users would be nuts to do anything else.

Are you a programmer who wants some cool ideas for automation projects or utilities? Check out Cadalyst’s CAD Tips library for thousands of examples of AutoLISP and other types of AutoCAD customization. The real value in using programming to help implement standards is that users see their work progressing faster, and errors popping up less often.

Train to the standard. Perhaps the main reason users don’t follow standards is that they’re not fully trained on the philosophy behind them and their proper use. Instead, they often have a document thrown in front of them and are told to follow the instructions. In this mode of operation, users don’t really understand the purpose of the standard, and you’re asking them to take time away from their current tasks to figure it out. If standards confuse users, add to their task list, and slow down the completion of their current assignment, is it any wonder that they’re ignored?

To solve this issue, write down your standard procedures in cheat-sheet form and back them up with quick training classes that explain how they work. Keep the sessions short — great standards training tends to happen in short bursts rather than in drawn-out sessions. If you can’t explain the standards quickly, then they probably aren’t easy enough!

My goal is always to keep the coverage brisk and to the point, while clearly communicating the basic requirements of the standards. Keeping standards training focused in this manner will make your boss happy too, because you won’t be spending a lot of billable time on training.

Project Kickoffs

As each new project or job begins, you must reinforce standards use. Sometimes you may even need to introduce some project-specific standards based on customer requirements, which means changing your standards. Here are the keys to achieving a great project kickoff and making standards stick at the same time.

Write it down
. If there are any new standards for the project, summarize them in a short memo so users get the information they need quickly.

Talk through it.
Present the information in a standards kickoff meeting in a fast-paced, lecture-style format using PowerPoint or your CAD program to present any pertinent screen captures or software features. The goal here is to show people what they’ll encounter on the project and how they need to implement the CAD standards.

Record it. Make video and screen recordings of your training sessions so anyone who missed the meeting can catch up later.

Answer questions.
Take down all questions asked during the project kickoff, and answer them fully in a follow-up meeting where you’ll again use visual aids to demonstrate. Don’t rely on verbal explanations; they are too easy to misinterpret.

Remember that the purpose of project kickoff meetings is to emphasize how standards will be used on the job and to rekindle enthusiasm for working with better processes to get the job done more efficiently. All these concepts will help you make your CAD standards stick.

Keep At It

You’re never done with CAD standards because you’re never done fixing everything in your CAD environment and technology never stops changing. The challenge for CAD managers is to constantly adjust CAD standards so they become increasingly automated and easy to use. Rather than viewing CAD standards as a hassle that must be dealt with periodically, view standardization as an evolutionary process that gives you a chance to better serve your users.

Establishing and maintaining standards requires continuous planning, fixing, training, and documentation. It isn’t easy, but the payoffs are huge. I hope the concepts I’ve outlined help make the process easier and more valuable for you and your users.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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